[at last] EU abandons police cooperation deal with Israel

Israeli Border Police officers arrest an activist in occupied East Jerusalem (AFP)

Elis Gjevori

Middle East Eye  /  December 7, 2022

Concerns over far-right members of incoming government pulls plug on agreement five years in the making.

The European Union has told Israel that it will not be moving forward with an intelligence cooperation agreement between the Israeli police and Europol.  

Israeli newspaper Haaretz first reported the news on Wednesday. The decision was reportedly delivered to the Israeli ambassador to the EU, Haim Regev, on Friday. 

Finalized in September of this year, the agreement aimed to facilitate the transfer of information between Israeli and EU police in the fight against crime and terrorism. 

The draft deal was signed in September but needed the approval of the European parliament. 

Israeli officials told Haaretz that they suspect the EU’s decision signals displeasure at likely upcoming changes to Israeli policies towards the occupied Palestinian territories. A new right-wing government is taking shape in Israel, seeing Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party sign a coalition deal with Jewish supremacist parties.

One Israeli source warned: “There is pressure in Europe to be less forgiving of Israel now that there is a change of government.”

Another sticking point was cooperation between the two sides in the territories occupied by Israel after 1967, according to a German report.

As the occupying force, Israel has security duties in the territories under its control, but there was unease amongst some European countries about potentially legitimizing Israel’s territorial claims on the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Golan Heights.

“As a general rule, the EU should not be doing deals with illiberal democracies, especially in the areas of security,” Grace O’Sullivan, an Irish Green Party member of the European parliament, told Middle East Eye.

“We have retained funding from Hungary due to its illiberal approach, and we have sanctioned Russia for occupation. We should not hold Israel to any other standard than that which we set for others.”

While the agreement would not, in theory, apply to the occupied territories, there are exceptions if there was an urgent security need, which Israel would define.

Another MEP, Cornelia Ernst, has criticized the plans as a “dangerous precedent” that would increase Israeli control over the occupied territories. 

Concern over direction

Netanyahu’s new partners from the far-right Religious Zionism alliance, most notably Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, won 14 seats in the election held last month and are expected to hold significant sway over the direction of the new government.

Ben-Gvir looks set to become public security minister, with powers including control of the country’s armed border police, who operate in the West Bank and Jerusalem. 

The border police is a military unit made up of 2,000 soldiers which until now were under the authority of the Israeli army’s central command.

“These are the same Israeli security forces that blocked our European parliament delegation from entering Israel in May. How can we sign agreements with them when they don’t even allow basic democratic oversight from EU institutions?” asked O’Sullivan.

“All democrats in Europe are highly concerned about the incoming government in Israel and its anti-LGBT, anti-woman and anti-Palestinian agenda. A far-right government is bad for ordinary people in both Israel and Palestine.”

Elis Gjevori is a journalist based in Istanbul